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How to Duck Dive for Surfing in 10 Steps

The duck dive is an essential skill for surfing, allowing surfers to make it through the impact zone to paddle out into the lineup while conserving as much energy as possible. It's not easy, but with the proper technique and enough practice, you'll have the duck dive for surfing dialed in like second nature.

How Does the Duck Dive Work?

The duck dive is the practice of a surfer 'pushing' their surfboard down and diving their body underneath the power source of the whitewash and waves that are almost about to break as they paddle into the lineup.

Waves are energy. If you let this energy hit you straight on, you would find yourself going back towards the shore. A duck dive works by diving yourself as far beneath this energy as possible, helping the surfer continue in a forward direction towards the lineup with as little hindrance as possible.

Before Learning How to Duck Dive in Surfing:

Make sure that your equipment is the right style of equipment for a duck dive. Duck diving is only possible on smaller, lower volume surfboard shapes- your average shortboard, a hybrid, or a fish.

Longer surfboards and boards with more foam, meaning that they are extra buoyant due to an increase in volume, are much more difficult, if not impossible, to dive under the waves. With this, you will have to utilize a turtle roll technique instead, not a duck dive.

This means that with fun shapes and longboards, to make it past breaking waves, you must flip the board around, so the fins protrude out of the water and towards the sky as a wave heads your way. With your body now in the water, therefore weighing the surfboard down, you will hug tightly onto it by wrapping your hands and legs around the deck.

After some turbulence, you can then flip the board back around its proper side and continue paddling when the wave passes.

How to Duck Dive in Surfing

After absorbing the information in this article, we highly suggest paddling your surfboard out in flat conditions, the pool, or a lake in order to practice and master the motions. This helps you focus on the critical fundamentals, and once you feel comfortable, make sure to always surf within your comfort zone. Don't paddle out in massive conditions; instead, duck dive into smaller, less powerful waves first.

Step 1: Body Position

Your body position while paddling greatly influences the success of a duck dive. You want to ensure that you have found the perfect sweet spot on your surfboard as you paddle, as indicated by:

  • No drag coming from the tail- If there is drag, this means you are too far back on the board, your weight causing the tail to sink and slow your paddles.
  • A nose that doesn't plane into the water- If your nose sinks, this means that you are too far forward on the board, your weight causing the nose to dip into the surface of the water.
  • A feeling of gliding across the water- The perfect paddle positioning will feel as though you can effortlessly glide across the water as you stroke your arms. It is as if the surfboard has found the perfect equilibrium between nose and tail on the water's surface.

Step 2: Speed

When it comes to the duck dive for surfing, speed is seriously your best bud. You need to meet wave speed with speed and wave power with power. The more speed you have as the wave crashes towards you, the more this speed will translate into your ability to push the board as far down and away from the wave's power source as possible.

To do this, as the wave breaks towards you, give yourself as many powerful, strong, and intentional paddles as possible. Keep the board pointed directly towards the wave, generating as much speed as you can before it's time to push the board below the surface.

Step 3: Timing

A poorly timed duck dive will have your board swept out from under you in a second. To time your duck dive correctly, you have to know precisely when to stop paddling and when to initiate the duck dive technique for surfing.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to begin duck diving about 4-6 feet away from the front of the whitewash. The longer you are able to paddle and continue building speed, the better, so don't try duck diving too soon.

Step 4: A Deep Breath

As an additional tip to keep in mind, make sure to take a deep breath before you push the board and yourself below. You never know when a duck dive might go wrong or when a wave is simply too large, and just in case, you want as much oxygen in the tank as possible.

Step 5: Grab the Rails

The process of pushing your surfboard down with the correct duck dive technique for surfing is where most of the magic happens.

When the wave reaches the 4-6 ft mark away from you, you want to transition from your paddling to your diving technique as quickly as possible, so the minimum amount of speed is lost in the process.

Begin by grabbing your surfboard's rails above the middle point of the surfboard, close to where your pectorals lay, somewhere around 2-2.5 ft below the nose. Because you are pushing the surfboard down, nose first, you won't get the right angle if you grip too close to the middle of the deck.

Step 6: Push The Board Down

With as much force as possible, as soon as you grip onto the rails, you want to push the board down below the wave with as much muscle that you can muster.

Use your arms to initiate this movement, and the straighter they become as you push the board down, the further below the water the board will go. Try and push your board downward until your arms are completely straight for the best chance of a successful duck dive for surfing.

Step 7: Bodyweight

Immediately following your arms, you want to adjust your body weight so that it is forward, following the direction of the surfboard's nose. Follow the nose of the board with your head as you begin to dive your body underneath the surface as well, doing so in one big, strong, and fluent motion.

Step 8: Your Feet and/or Knees

As soon as you push the surfboard under the water and begin to transition your body weight, once you are submerged as far down as you can go, use your foot or your knee over the tail pad to continue pushing the board down. As you do this, lift your free leg out of the water to put as much weight over the tail as possible.

This is where the name of the duck dive comes from, as your free foot will look exactly like the feet of a duck when they dive under to catch a quick bite.

This should be done almost simultaneously with pushing the nose downwards with your arms, and overall, it should appear as one swift motion.

Once you've pushed the board as far down as it will go, continue using your feet/knee to straighten the board out as the wave passes overhead.

Think of it this way; you want to straighten out your board so that it is parallel to the seafloor. If you keep the nose pointed downwards, the buoyancy of the tail combined with the wave power will literally rip it right out of your hands.

Once the board is straight, bring your body close to the surfboard by laying back on it.

Step 9: Back-Up You Go!

Now that you are parallel to the seafloor and the wave is passing by, you want to utilize the circular motion of the waves' energy and this timing to complete your duck dive for surfing to come out the other side.

As the wave passes and you've brought your body back onto the deck of the board, arch your back so that you transition your weight towards the water's surface and look towards the top with your head.

With the pressure of the wave in conjunction with your arched bodyweight, the board should begin rising towards the surface fairly naturally and without much-required effort, and take your time in letting this happen to ensure that the power source of the wave has fully passed.

Step 10: Keep at It

As soon as you pop out the other side of the wave, get right back to paddling! You want to take advantage of every possible second to reach the lineup, and the more distance you cover and speed you can gain before the next wave in the set reaches you for duck dive number two, the better.

Waste no time, take a deep breath to regain oxygen, and keep cranking towards that lineup!

The Duck Dive for Surfing: A Quick Summary

Again, the duck dive is an art, and it's going to take time, practice, and experience in varying wave conditions to master it fully. So seriously, don't get discouraged if it takes a little while to get it down.

Always utilize a duck dive as a way to paddle out, and never ditch your surfboard to the side as a way to avoid oncoming waves, as this is a considerable danger to other surfers. Paddle strong, paddle fast, and make the duck dive technique for surfing as close to one, singular motion as possible.

Eventually, you will read the waves, and this technique, like the back of your hand, and hopefully paddling out just became a hell of a lot easier for you with these tips.